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The enclosed techniques and procedures were developed with materials from a workbook of cognitive behavior techniques titled “Thoughts & Feelings and written by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning. The workbook was published by New Harbinger Publications, Inc in 1997.

Clinical Prompt

Step 1. Explain the concept
Step 2. Give the appropriate written or recorded Visualization Procedure
Step 3. Relax
Step 4. Visualize
Step 5. Repeat/add
Step 5. Talking back

Infant Visualization Procedure CBT#15-001
Toddler Visualization Procedure CBT#15-002
Pre-schooler Visualization Procedure (2 pages) CBT#15-003
School-Age Child Visualization Procedure CBT#15-004
Adolescent Visualization Procedure (2 pages) CBT#15-005
Young Adult Visualization Procedure CBT#15-006

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After working through technique, “Perceiving Reflex Thoughts” the child has probably identified the way distressing thoughts reflect deeply held core beliefs. Core beliefs have their roots in childhood. You can probably remember thinking the way you do since you were four or seven or twelve years old. This technique teaches powerful procedures for changing those core beliefs by visualizing the inner child. It is taken in large part from the book, Prisoners of Belief (1991).

Psychologically speaking, it is not true that you can’t change the past. Although you can’t alter what happened to you or what the you did, you can use visualization to restructure memories so that they cause less pain and interfere less in present life.

Symptom Effectiveness

Inner-child visualizations can alter negative core beliefs, reduce depression, raise low self appraisal, and relieve pervasive feelings of shame and guilt. However, while there are abundant case reports of effectiveness, no major study has been undertaken to date on the effectiveness of inner-child visualizations.

Time for Mastery

For maximum effectiveness, have the client practice visualization exercises two or three times a day for ten to twenty minutes a day. If s/he concentrates on one age level a day, it will take him/her about a week to tape-record guided imagery tailored to his/her core beliefs and memories. The client will start to experience a shift in awareness from the very start. Significant results will take several weeks, as s/he listens to his/her tapes, refine their imagery, and explore different core beliefs.


This technique may not be applicable to the child you are working with, and any use should be directed by the Clinical Supervisor. The technique works because the unconscious mind doesn’t believe in time. To the unconscious mind, things that happened when you were six months old can be just as important and immediate as things that happened yesterday. It this technique is to be used with a child, it will be important that s/he understand the context of the visualization.


Deep inside, your entire infant personality survives in every detail. This inner infant has no knowledge of any older versions of you. It remains an infant, with an infant’s needs, abilities, and understanding of the world.

Likewise, you have a two-year-old toddler inside of you, with a two-year-old’s self-centered and contrary feelings. There are countless versions of you, of all ages from birth to your present age.

The inner child is more than an interesting metaphor. It explains why people act “childishly” or “immaturely” Some stressful event reminds them of a childhood trauma and awakens a younger version of themselves. They react as if they were still two or five or ten years old.

Painful feelings that you experienced as a child can return to haunt you in the form of negative thoughts about yourself. Unmet needs from early times may still drive you to this day.

In the past few years, techniques have been developed for “reparenting” your inner child in order to resolve old painful feelings and meet old needs symbolically. This work is often done in twelve-step recovery programs by adult children of alcoholics or by victims of childhood sexual or physical abuse. These powerful techniques also work very well for those who struggle with longstanding negative core beliefs about themselves and the world.

When you visualize your inner child, you imagine that you, a wise, experienced adult, are visiting yourself as a child during a particularly hard time – a specific scene that you have already identified as contributing to one of your negative beliefs about yourself. You impart to your younger self the wisdom you have acquired and the skills you’ve developed to deal with hard times. Specifically, you counter the negative belief that is being formed in that early-childhood scene with a more positive, more accurate belief. You actually become, in your imagination, the perfect parent and friend that you needed at the time but may not have had.

Your unconscious mind doesn’t believe in reality any more than it believes in time. That is, it doesn’t distinguish between actual experience and dreams or fantasies. The good advice and support that you give your inner child in your imagination, years after the fact, can be processed and stored and used by your unconscious just as if you had received it at the time of the trauma in question. The fact that you have two contradictory versions of the same memory doesn’t bother your unconscious because it doesn’t insist that things make the kind of logical sense that your conscious mind requires.

Visualization Procedure

Different core beliefs are formed at different times. The procedures are divided into developmental stages recommended by John Bradshaw (1990). But no two people’s experiences are identical, and this child’s experience may not match the stages presented here. If you find this to be the case, simply have the child adjust the visualization to match the ages that correspond to his/her early traumas.

It might work best to provide the child with a tape of the visualization instructions, altering them to fit his/her history and distressing thoughts. Make sure that the you speak slowly and clearly, with frequent pauses.

These visualization exercises can be a very powerful emotional experience. If the child begins to feel overwhelmed by feelings at any time during the exercise, you should tell him/her to open his/her eyes and stop at once. Don’t let the child continue until you have talked it over. If the child has a history of serious mental illness, and especially if physically, sexually, or emotionally abused, you should consult with the clinical supervisor before doing inner-child work.

Don’t try to do the entire visualization in one session. Have the client cover one age level at a time, then take a break or wait until the next day to go on. The Visualization Procedures [See CBT#15-001 to CBT#15-006] are presented as you will present them to the child.

Talking Back

If the child’s trauma includes parents or other caretakers who s/he perceive as having abused or neglected him/her, you can help the child talk back to them as part of his/her inner-child visualizations. This is a visualized version of a two-chair role-playing exercise developed by Jeffrey Young (1990).

The child can talk back in two ways. First, s/he can visualize him/herself as a yournger child, talking back to adults who mistreated him/her:

You’re not treating me right.
You have no right to do this.
This is your problem, not mine.
It’s not my fault.
You’re asking too much from me.

The second way to talk back is to have the child visualize his/her adult self stepping into a scene to address the abuser or neglecter:

You’re mistreating your child.
This is wrong.
It’s your fault, not the child’s.
Back off.

S/he can create an alternative scenario in which the adult self rescues the inner child from the scene, stops the abuse, hits or chases the abuser away, or in some other way intervenes directly in the situation. The Mentor will need to take specific precautions that this visualization is about an incident and a person or persons who are far enough away from the present that future interaction does not create additional difficulties.

Special Considerations

Visualization Difficulties

If your client has difficulty visualizing, have him/her try the following simple exercise:

Close your eyes and recall something (your bedroom, a pleasant recent or childhood experience, or what you had for breakfast this morning) in as much detail as possible. Pay attention to shapes, colors, and lighting as well as smells, tastes, textures, temperature, sounds, physical sensations, and feelings. If you can’t “feel” these sense impressions in your mind, just describe them verbally to yourself. By practicing the mental description of something very familiar to you, you will gradually improve your powers of imagery.

If the client has trouble creating strong visual images, s/he probably has a well-developed memory which favors another sense, such as smell, touch, or hearing. If this is true for your client, have him/her recall an experience by tuning into whatever sense is easiest. Impressions of the other senses will gradually arise if s/he keeps practicing with the favored sense.

Age & Development

It should be obvious through review of the visualization technique, that not all parts will be applicable to all children. If you are using the technique with the child, you should view it from the perspective of training an appropriate adult. The transactional analysis concept that all people over the age of four have a “child”, a “parent” and an “adult” perspective gives the context for this viewpoint. In the visualization as used with an older person, all three perspectives may be included. For the young child, however, the parent and adult roles are probably not well formed. You may need to help the child model an appropriate parent and/or adult role.

Since this is a special use of the technique, it should only be done in close contact with the Clinical Supervisor.

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